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In The Last Chrysanthemum, Thomas Hardy asks, Why should this flower delay so long / To show its tremulous plumes? He might have well have been posing this question to himself. The British poet wrote most of his greatest verse after the age of sixty. Hardy proves, that through lifes journey, a metamorphosis can take place in ones perspective. Through time and experience, innocence is lost, only realized after a death or startling event. Hardy takes three approaches at this theme in The Darkling Thrush, The Man He Killed, and Channel Firing.
In The Darkling Thrush, the speaker is despondent in the first two stanzas, brooding about the atmosphere. Hardy wrote this poem at the turn of the century, so it is probable that these views are reflective of his feelings. Spirituality and the vivacity of life have recoiled like strings of broken lyres, giving this moment in time a feeling of apathy. The speaker is tired and suffocated by his circumstances: the desolation of Winter, the weariness of the last Century, and the pessimism of change being a long ways away. Yet, he finds his faith redeemed through an aged thrush, frail, gaunt, and small. The birds passionate song affects the growing gloom, and its faith gives it the courage to fling his soul, paralleling Jesus or the Kamikaze pilots of World War II who were willing to sacrifice for the greater good.
Was out of work is the best excuse that the speaker of The Man He Killed could find for his sin. With his choice to enter war and to bear arms, he lost good judgement, morals, and the ability to feel pain. He is the victim of the wars society, where minds have devolved into narrow-mindedness and tunnel vision. Immediate needs dictate lives, not virtue and reason.
After he kills this man who he might have given half a crown in another life, his actions have caught up to him. The speakers mind whirls with hypothetical situations and guilt. He knows that he had the same chance of being killed, and that he had changed the course of the world in someway. But in the end, he concedes that his wrongdoing cant be reversed. Channel Firing deals with the aspects of innocence beyond our life on earth. The soldiers of World War I, who are supposedly fighting for a good cause, only help make red war yet redder.
They are blind to see that their convictions are wrong, and that the effect of their guns on nature is much harsher, shaking the earth with as much terror as Judgement Day. Again, indifference is a key factor in losing innocence and purity. Along with their lack of compassion for life, the soldiers take religion half-heartedly, doing nothing for Christmas sake. It is through this omniscient role that the dead learn the consequences of mans free will and mans abuse of it.
God reveals to them that the soldiers will have to scour / Hells floor, hinting that the dead have followed the same pattern of mistakes, and it is already too late for them to repent. Hardy incorporates the theme of innocence lost into the poems, but explores them in three distinct ways. The Darkling Thrush displays a change in perspective through nature and the power of one. The Man He Killed shows a transformation after fighting an internal war with a split-second decision that the speaker could not reverse. In Channel Firing, the epiphany for the speakers is through life after death. All of these speakers were oblivious that they were swept away by the coldness and triviality, and superficiality of the early 20 th Century.
The central message is much like the poetry of William Blake. Only a state of innocence opens us to a deeper level, and being receptive and open to nature will lend one divine inspiration. In the situation of Hardy's poems, the revelation of innocence is gathered from one profound incident or a rude awakening. 342
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